That’s why we’ve put together this article on how to avoid motor fraud to help you stay safe when you buy a car or sell your vehicle. Join us, as we explore the dark underbelly of car scams, from what they are, to well-known scams, and what you can do to stay protected.

Table of Contents

  • What are car scams?
  • Why should I do a stolen car check?
  • Top tips to avoid car scams
  • Common car scams
  • Online car scams
  • How to stay safe when buying a car?
  • Common car scams when selling a vehicle
  • Top tips for protecting yourself from scams when selling a car
  • Buy and sell your car with peace of mind

What are car scams?

Car scams are techniques used by fraudsters to rip you off, depriving you of your hard-earned cash or selling you a lie. There are buying and selling scams, internet car buying scams, car auction scams, car export scams, dodgy car buyers, and other fraudulent activities that can affect you.

They can be sophisticated, they can be crude, and they can be easy to fall for. But don’t worry, we’re here to make sure car scams don’t affect you.

Why should I do a stolen car check?

When buying a used car it’s always good practice to do a stolen car check. Firstly, it gives you the peace of mind that you’re not being sold something that rightfully belongs to someone else. Secondly, if you did unknowingly buy a stolen vehicle, the police can reclaim it without providing any compensation to you. In other words, the onus is on you the buyer to make sure you purchase a legitimate vehicle.

It’s easy and inexpensive to do a stolen car check. And it can save you a lot of potential hassle – and money – down the line. Organisations like HPI – the first to introduce a vehicle history check – allow you to run the registration of a car to receive accurate, up-to-date information. It’ll highlight if it’s been in an accident and provide info as to whether the car’s stolen, cloned, or clocked, and whether there’s any outstanding debt.

Top tips to avoid car scams

Being aware of car buying scams and car sales fraud in the first place should mean you’re less likely to fall victim to such foul play. But to keep truly safe when buying or selling a vehicle, arm yourself with these top tips to avoid car scams:

  • Too good to be true: if it sounds too good of a deal, such as the price and mileage not matching the make, age, and model, it probably is. Luring buyers with an unrealistic deal is a tactic of many scammers
  • Read about car scams: the more you know about potential scams, the more you can take precautions to avoid them
  • Check with the DVLA: before buying a car get the registration number, make, and model from the seller so you can check what information the DVLA has on the car. It’s free and fast to do.
  • Use a traceable payment method: don’t buy a vehicle with cash, as there’s no way to trace that should you fall prey to a car scam. Also, be sure to view the car first before you transfer any money – make sure the seller is the registered owner and the car is in its advertised condition.
  • Watch for phishing scams: be wary of unexpected phone calls and/or suspicious emails that claim to be from an insurer, the DVLA, or other such company. Phishing scams attempt to disguise themselves as reputable companies – don’t give them your personal details or click embedded email links.
  • Inspect the VINs: check all the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) on the car match one another and the V5C logbook. It’s the best way to establish the car’s identity. If they don’t match, don’t buy the car.
  • View the car at its logbook address: whilst a layby or service station might be more convenient, see the car at the address that is stated on its logbook. It’s a good way to deter a potential car scam.

Where can I report a car sale fraud? If you suspect a possible car scam, whether buying or selling, report the potential crime to Action Fraud. It will help protect you and other car buyers and sellers, notifying the police to the issue.

Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash

Common car scams

Below is a list of common car scams, explaining what they are, how to detect them, and how to avoid them. Having knowledge of these is a great way to avoid getting ripped off by a fraudster.

Car cloning

Car cloning is where criminals steal the identity of a legally-registered car and use it to hide the identity of a stolen or salvaged vehicle that looks similar. The stolen car is then sold on or used in various criminal activities, but the offences are wrongly laid at the door of the original cloned car.

How to detect car cloning: for buyers, make sure the V5C logbook matches the VIN numbers and registration. It’s good practice to get a vehicle history check too, this’ll tell you if it has been stolen or scrapped and give you other useful info too.

How to avoid car cloning: unfortunately, there’s not much car owners can do to avoid car cloning. In most cases, you only find out after it has happened, for example: when you get a letter for a traffic offence you didn’t commit. However, for buyers, if the car doesn’t have a V5C registration don’t buy it, as this is a tell-tale sign of car cloning. Since 2002, it’s also illegal to sell without a valid V5C. Also, make sure it’s not forged by checking for the DVLA watermark.

The cut and shut

A more elaborate version of cloning, the cut and shut is a car that has been made from the damaged remains of two or more vehicles. Not only is it incredibly unsafe, it’s also highly illegal.

How to detect it: look for panel gaps and misaligned panels – these are signs of a cut and shut. Also, check for different paint shades and a highly reduced price that’s not consistent with similar models.

How to avoid it: in addition to the checks to detect this scam, you can get a vehicle history check too. This’ll give you the relevant info you need to avoid purchasing such a car. Also, make sure the VIN numbers match one another and the logbook – if they don’t, don’t buy it.

Ringing

Like cloning, ringing involves hiding the identity of a stolen car, this time under a vehicle that’s been written off. The ringed vehicle will then be sold to an unsuspecting buyer.

How to detect ringing: check the registration and VIN match the logbook. If they don’t, do not buy the car. You should also look to see if the registration plate has been tampered with in any way.

How to avoid ringing: if you follow the checks to detect ringing, you’ll be able to avoid the problem too. Remember, if something seems suspicious just walk away from the deal.

Clocked cars

Clocking involves manually reducing the car’s mileage on the odometer to increase its value. The fraudster will then sell the car as if it has done less miles than it actually has.

How to detect clocked cars: the best way is to get a full vehicle history check. This will give you a detailed history of the car and should include a yearly record of mileage, which you can add up to see if it’s accurate.

How to avoid clocked cars: if the mileage doesn’t match following a history check, or the car’s condition doesn’t quite add up to the mileage, step away.

Fake Insurance / Ghost brokers

Fake insurers, known as ghost brokers, pretend to be legitimate, but really, they sell fake or forged insurance policies that are invalidated by misinformation. Or, they set up a genuine insurance policy only to cancel it to keep the refund for themselves, whilst the victim is left unaware. Typically, they target new and young drivers, as well as students, offering discounted cover and a too-good-to-be-true insurance deal.

How to detect ghost brokers: they usually place adverts on social media, student forums and websites, money-saving and cheap insurance forums, and even on university notice boards. Some may approach in person at popular haunts of students. If you’re approached for an insurance policy in any of those ways, be extra cautious and check their details. If they don’t have a website and they only use email or a mobile phone for contact – avoid.

How to avoid ghost brokers: get your car insurance from a branded insurer or use well-known comparison sites to generate the best possible deals. You can also check insurance brokers at the British Insurance Brokers’ Association to see if they are authorised and legitimate. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

‘DVLA’ scams

A type of phishing scam, this one involves the fraudster posing as the DVLA or other such official body, like Gov.uk. They’ll send motorists fake emails and texts as if from these bodies, offering you an outstanding refund on car tax or something similar. It’ll include a link and/or a request for personal details, including contact and banking information. They’ll use this to take money from you and/or for identity theft.

How to detect ‘DVLA’ scams: whilst such fake emails can be very realistic, you can avoid these scams simply by being aware of the fact that the DVLA and Gov.uk will never operate in this way. The fake email will likely have a non-personalised greeting. Plus, the email address might look like the real deal, but it will actually be wrong even if it’s just by a single letter or symbol.

How to avoid ‘DVLA’ scams: the DVLA and Gov.uk will never send you an email or a text message with links to a website that asks you to confirm your identity and banking details. If you ever receive such an email delete it.

Rip-off mechanics

The majority of garages and mechanics like to build repeat business and wouldn’t dream of overcharging or ripping off their customers. However, there are an unscrupulous few who do. They may charge extra for parts, labour, or hit you with a long list of additional MOT faults they just so happened to find.

How to detect rip-off mechanics: unless you have some in-depth car knowledge yourself it can be hard to spot. However, if you get hit with new, unsuspecting faults, or expensive parts and labour every time you visit the garage, the alarm bells should be ringing.

How to avoid rip-off mechanics: use an approved garage and do a bit of research into them. Take a look at customer reviews, and look at their accreditation and awards. And when they come to work on your car, get them to explain what they are repairing and why and what parts they are using.

Virtual vehicle scams

This scam aims to extract money from eager buyers. Fraudsters will clone an ad from elsewhere and put it up online at a trade site, with an enticing deal. The fraudulent seller will then forego the proper channels of the trade site and email you directly. They may be pushy or claim there’s lots of interest, all in a bid to secure a deposit or the full amount from you, and your contact and banking details – without you seeing the car in person.

How to detect it: this scam usually involves an elaborate story as to why you can’t view the car. The vehicle is typically under-priced and in high demand too – this is an attempt to attract interest and to push you to forego your caution and buy it quick. However, these are actually red flags to walk away.

How to avoid it: if the seller won’t let you view the car in person that’s a clear sign to avoid buying from them. Equally, if they insist on communicating outside the proper channels of a trade site, even if they claim it’s for your benefit, walk away. Also, don’t buy a car from overseas – unless you know the seller and have seen the vehicle – as this is often a tactic used by scammers.

Vehicle matching scams

Otherwise known as ‘I have a buyer waiting,’ this one sees a legitimate seller being cold called by someone claiming to have a buyer waiting. For a finder’s fee, they’ll match them to you. They won’t, because the buyer doesn’t exist. Instead, they’ll take your money and personal info and banking details.

How to detect it: the fixer will tell you lots of stories and try to make it sound like the buyer is a real person in an attempt to entice you. They’ll also be a cold caller.

How to avoid it: if you’re being hit by a cold call claiming they have a buyer, do not engage them. Never give them money, no matter how little. And remember, no legitimate buyer would go through a matching company.

Fake websites for license renewal scam

You have to renew your photocard licence every 10 years, whether in person at the Post Office or online at either the DVLA or Post Office. Scammers have tried to take advantage of those who renew online by creating fake websites. These appear similar in name and layout to the official avenues for renewing your photocard licence. They’ll ask for a lot of personal details and charge you without ever actually renewing it. And given your bank details and personal information they could do a lot of damage.

How to detect it: make sure the website has the legitimate web address of the DVLA/Post Office and is not a close approximation to it. Also, be wary of any site that asks for information that is not relevant to your car, such as your mother’s maiden name or how long you’ve lived in your house.

How to avoid it: go through the official channels linked above to renew your photocard licence. Alternatively, go in person to the Post Office to get it renewed.

Induced Accident Scams

Also known as crash for cash scams, these are a type of motor insurance fraud which involves the fraudster purposefully causing an accident that you’ll get blamed for. You’ll lose your no-claims bonus, your premiums will go up, and the scammers will make inflated claims against you to get away with more money. There are lots of different variations to it. One sees the criminal flash their lights to let you by, only to drive into you claiming they never flashed at all and that you just pulled out. Another sees the scammer suddenly brake so you go into the back of them.

How to detect it: look out for cars that are driving unusually, speeding up and slowing down to try to get people close to the back of them. Also, there may be more than one car and scammer involved with this one and they may try to signal to one another. There could be a too-convenient witness as well, who is in on it and who just so happened to see it was all “your fault”.

How to avoid it: remember to keep your braking distance whilst driving. A dashcam is invaluable here too, as it can show the truth of the situation. Should the unfortunate happen and you get into an accident, if you think it was suspicious call the police and don’t admit liability.

Dodgy car dealer acting as a private seller

A few unscrupulous dealers may try to forego their responsibilities and legal regulations by acting as a private seller. This means they can get away with things they normally wouldn’t be able to, such as not disclosing faults or providing a three-month warranty.

How to detect it: typically, they’ll ask to meet anywhere but the address on the car’s logbook to view it. If you do meet at their house, they may have lots of cars on their drive too. Another trick they might use is claiming they are selling the car for a friend or family member.

How to avoid it: You’ll want to check the V5C logbook to make sure the car is registered in their name, and not someone else. Ask lots of questions about the car’s history to see if they know the answers and detail of the vehicle. If they claim to be selling on behalf of another person, you should be very wary and ask to meet that person and ask why they aren’t personally selling it.

Photo by Vincent Guzman on Unsplash

Online car scams

Scammers also utilise online selling platforms such as Gumtree and eBay to con unsuspecting car buyers. If you’re ever asked to pay outside such platforms – even if it’s supposedly for your benefit or a bigger discount – refuse and move on. This is a tactic used frequently by fraudsters. Similarly, make sure you check all aspects of a car and view it at the correct address, as there have also been cases of scammers creating false adverts to sell a car that does not even belong to them.

How to stay safe when buying a car?

How to avoid getting scammed when buying a used car involves a bit of research and keeping your wits about you. Stay safe from motor fraud and follow these top 10 tips to avoid scams when buying a used car:

  1. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is
  2. Research the market and compare similar models to check the pricing is accurate
  3. Don’t be pressured by a “quick sale” or a pushy seller
  4. Always view the car before paying for it or paying a deposit
  5. View the car at the seller’s address listed on the logbook
  6. Take the car for a test drive and see how it drives
  7. Check the watermarked V5C matches the registration and VIN
  8. Check the service history is fully stamped and for unusual gaps, which could be a sign of clocking
  9. Get a vehicle history check to see if it’s stolen, been in an accident, or has outstanding finance
  10. Get a mechanical inspection of the car – if the seller’s genuine they won’t object

Common car scams when selling a vehicle

It pays to be aware of common car selling scams in order to avoid them. Below are some tactics frequently used by scammers, how you can detect them, and how you can avoid them.

‘I don’t need to view it’ car scam

This one involves the potential buyer claiming they “don’t need to see the car in person.” Next, the buyer will damage the car or get in a minor accident on purpose, claiming that the damage was there before they bought it. As you probably guessed, they’ll try and get money off you to pay for the “damages.”

How to detect it: saying you don’t need to view the car is an unusual thing to request. Be cautious if they say this and always take the steps below to keep yourself covered.

How to avoid it: describe your car as accurately as possible, including any faults, dents, or scratches. Find a buyer who wants to see the car and view it alongside them. You could also get them to sign a “sold as seen” receipt for added cover.

‘Dirty oil’ car scam

With this scam, there are usually a couple of people involved. They’ll come view your car in person and then one will distract you so the other can pour oil into the coolant reservoir. When they start the car up, whether for a test drive or as they go to drive away having paid you, the engine will pour with smoke as if there’s a big problem. Next, the fraudsters will demand an equally big discount.

How to detect it: this car scam can be tricky to spot from genuine buyers who want to check every inch of your car. If it seems or feels like someone is trying to distract you, be extra cautious and don’t let them succeed. Remember, if you suspect foul play or feel uncomfortable in the sale, you can always refuse to sell to them.

How to avoid it: when buyers come to view your car, stay with them at all times. If they look at the engine or other such sensitive areas that could be tampered with, don’t let them be by themselves. And don’t take your eyes off that area. If you have to leave your car unattended for a moment, lock it and shut the bonnet. If the buyer’s behaviour is suspicious, refuse the sale.

‘I overpaid. Can you refund me the extra?’ car scam

Another one where the buyer usually can’t meet in person. This time, the fraudster will say they’ve paid you – whether by cheque, bank transfer, or online – and that they’ve “accidentally” paid you too much. They’ll then ask you to give that money back to them. However, they won’t really have paid you. The cheque will be forged or won’t clear, or the transfer won’t have taken place, leaving you out of pocket.

How to detect it: the moment any buyer says “I’ve accidentally overpaid you” be cautious and keep yourself protected by waiting. If the buyer starts to be pushy, make them aware you’re just being careful. Don’t give in to their demands. Instead…

How to avoid it: wait until the cheque has cleared or the transfer is complete. Then you can see whether or not they have paid you more and you can make steps to rectify it.

‘This car is overpriced and/or faulty. Can I get a discount?’ car scam

Someone may try their luck with this as a means to negotiate. However, it’s also a tactic of scammers. They’ll probably appear to have in-depth car knowledge or have an “expert” with them. They’ll carry out checks and point out all the reasons the vehicle is overvalued. Their aim is to make you think you’ve overpriced the car and that there are issues needing fixed in order to drop them a big discount. They’ll then sell the vehicle on at a higher price.

How to detect it: it’s a little trickier to spot as a genuine buyer may bring a mechanic or a car expert with them to check the vehicle over. Nonetheless, scammers will give themselves away because they’ll be insisting the car is worth less and they’ll be pointing out “faults” that “prove” they are right.

How to avoid it: firstly, don’t be pressured into selling. If someone takes this stance, you can kindly refuse to sell to them. Secondly, know the value of your car by researching what other drivers are selling the same make and model with similar mileage for. You can get an instant free car valuation too, to set you in the right direction. On top of that, you could get a mechanic to check your car over before selling, that way you know the true condition of the vehicle.

‘I’m abroad just now, but I’ll pay online’ car scam

These fraudsters may sound legitimate and will appear genuinely interested. They’ll likely ask a lot of questions too and have seemingly respectable backgrounds working for big corporations. When it comes to payment though, they’ll suggest an online payment method, such as PayPal. And when you make the sale, they’ll send you a realistic looking fake receipt as if they’ve paid. But they won’t actually have sent you money. They’ll then ask you to arrange transport or the shipment of your car. Alternatively, they may do the above in a different order, refusing you payment until the car has been shipped to them.

How to detect it: the moment someone suggests an online payment – whether from PayPal or another source – be extra careful. Most importantly, follow the step below…

How to avoid it: do not arrange transport, shipment, or hand over your car, its keys, or any documentation until you have received payment and it’s cleared into your bank account. Watch out for fake emails and receipts – they can be scarily realistic. Stick to your guns and, as mentioned, wait for the money to clear in your account before doing anything.

Photo by Kelly L from Pexels

Top tips for protecting yourself from scams when selling a car

How to avoid scams when selling a car involves many of the same strategies as when buying a used vehicle – you need to do your research and stay vigilant. So, keep yourself protected from motor fraud with these top ten tips on how to avoid being scammed when selling a car:

  1. Be wary of anyone wanting to buy your car without seeing it in person
  2. Do not let prospective buyers into your house
  3. Never handover car keys or vehicle documents until payment has cleared in your account
  4. If the buyer pays by cheque make sure it actually clears before handing anything over
  5. Describe your car accurately, including any damage, so you and the buyer know its condition
  6. Be wary of anyone who claims a friend or relative will pay in their stead
  7. Watch out for phishing scams and don’t give out personal info in emails or over the phone
  8. Don’t be pressured into selling, especially if you feel something’s not quite right
  9. Be cautious of overseas buyers, especially if they want you to cover transport costs
  10. Go around the car with the buyer and have them sign a ‘sold as seen’ receipt

Buy and sell your car with peace of mind

With us, you can buy and sell your car with peace of mind. We work with HPI Check to confirm the identity of all the vehicles listed on our site, doing a History Check ourselves. This allows you to search with confidence, as all the cars listed with us are checked to see if they’re stolen, scrapped, or written off.

We still recommend you do your own research and vehicle history checks though, as this is best practice. Doing so, it’ll become a habit when shopping for a car and you’ll be much less likely to fall victim to car scams.

Car scams are relatively rare, but still represent a danger to buyers and sellers alike. If it sounds too good a deal it likely is. Protect yourself and others, if you suspect potential motor fraud report to Action Fraud today and log it with the police.